The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Top 5 patient complaints about medical offices

By addressing these 5 common patient complaints, you can improve patient satisfaction, attract new patients, and streamline operations.

Patient frustrated as slow response times become one of their patient complaints

At a Glance

  • Address common patient complaints such as long wait times, slow response times, lack of provider availability, and more.
  • Give patients ample face-to-face time with providers during appointments so they don’t feel rushed.
  • Streamline scheduling and payment processes to increase patient satisfaction and avoid billing issues.

As patients, we’ve all been in this familiar setting — sitting in chairs with hard plastic arms, pens dangling from our clipboards, and a continuous background symphony of ringing phones and elevator music. As an independent practice, how can you improve patients’ impressions of your clinic and minimize patient complaints?

From the moment patients first engage with your office until the moment they’ve completed checkout, every single move (and minute) can be under scrutiny. Remembering what it feels like to be the patient and putting yourself in their shoes can be valuable. This can help identify areas of needed improvement in your practice — and address patient complaints head-on. 

What are the 5 most common patient complaints?

Let’s look at 5 common areas of patient concern and discontent. How does your practice measure up?

1. Long wait times

How long are patients typically expected to wait before seeing a provider at your practice? If back-ups and extended wait times are common, consider investigating the cause. 

While many assume a difficult or complex patient slows the system down, it serves your practice to look into the matter further. For example, smoothing the scheduling template and providing clinicians with appropriate blocks of time for each patient can prevent frequent delays.

Smoothing the scheduling template and providing clinicians with appropriate blocks of time for each patient can prevent frequent delays. ”

It’s crucial to keep patients abreast of increased wait times. When given updates, they are more likely to feel in control and able to make necessary changes to their schedule. 

While you may be stuck at the office all day, your patient should not have to be. Consider how your patient wait times affect the remainder of their day, including potential issues with transportation, child care, medication/eating schedules, and caregiver availability. 

Consider offering secure video visits (telehealth) to give patients the convenience of seeing their providers from wherever they are.  

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2. Slow office response times 

Outside of appointment scheduling, are you effectively communicating with patients? Many practices field patient inquiries and respond to them via some or all of the following communication methods: phone, email, and online healthcare portal. 

In any case, a policy should be in place regarding response time. Providing patients with a reasonable estimate of return contact (e.g., within 48 hours) can help to put their minds at ease. This allows providers to triage and prioritize while being transparent and honest about turnaround time.

Another important consideration surrounding external communications includes perceived ease of use on the patients' end. If an online system is difficult to use or a patient can never get through via phone, patients will have a subpar experience with your practice. 

Patients want to feel supported by their providers at all times, not just when they are present for an office visit. In many cases, patients are reaching out for important action items such as symptom management, medication issues, disability forms, and questions regarding therapy.

3. Lack of provider availability

While accessible communication platforms are a preferred, easy-to-use method for several non-pressing issues, patients like to know they can contact an MD/NP/RN directly in case of an urgent matter. 

Do patients at your practice have access to this essential "lifeline?" Do you make patients aware of contact methods upfront? 

At the first visit, it's beneficial to quickly outline ways to contact the office and which one to choose, depending on the urgency of the question. ”

For example, at the first visit, it's beneficial to quickly outline ways to contact the office and which one to choose, depending on the urgency of the question. Armed with this information, patients feel supported, connected, and able to collaborate with you on their healthcare needs.

4. Not enough time with the provider

Feeling rushed during an appointment with a healthcare provider is unacceptable to patients. Patient and provider time is equally valuable and should always be treated as such. 

After all, the patient is a paying customer. Patient satisfaction should be the ultimate goal for any practice hoping to be stable and successful. 

To avoid rushing patients, consider allocating appropriate lengths of time based on anticipated needs and patient conditions. Patients should be provided ample time for questions and summaries at the end of each visit. 

This also helps to ensure patient compliance with their treatment plan, as they are given time to state their understanding and/or areas of concern. A sharp decline in patient satisfaction can occur if clients leave your office feeling more confused than when they arrived.

Patient Perspectives Report

5. A subpar checkout experience

In particular, 2 areas are key to improving patients’ experiences with your practice and reducing patient complaints — patient payment and future scheduling.

It’s advisable to collect payments from patients up front, which can circumvent any issues of non-payment later. It may be as basic as asking: “How would you like to pay?” while making eye contact with the patient and stating their name politely but firmly. 

Your staff can record the amount due for the patient to read — or hand the patient an electronic tablet displaying the information.

Ease of payment and lack of billing errors are expected by patients. ”

Ease of payment and lack of billing errors are expected by patients. While mistakes are sometimes unavoidable in the complex system of insurance-based payer models, this is an area of increased patient frustration. 

Additionally, take the time to balance your schedule to ensure you can see new and existing patients again within the desired time frame. This is especially true for follow-ups with new patients — once the patient has been seen in your office, the last thing they want to hear before leaving is that the first available appointment is 3 months away or more. 

As mentioned under “Long wait times,” consider offering other care delivery methods like telehealth that provide both the patient and provider more convenience for follow-up care. 

Address these 5 key areas, and you’ll not only reduce patient complaints — but you’ll attract net-new patients, retain existing ones, and keep your practice running smoothly.

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Ashley Hay

Ashley is a freelance healthcare writer, editor, public speaker, and owner of ahaywriting.com with over a decade of nursing experience in several areas of pediatric and adult oncology.

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